In today’s dispatch from our bizarre future, Microsoft has released Arrow, a free app that seeks to improve the experience on phones and tablets powered by Android, the Google OS that competes with Microsoft’s own Windows 10 Mobile OS.
Arrow replaces the default launcher on Android phones and tablets, allowing Microsoft to put its own stamp, like customising Bing wallpaper, on a device.
“Arrow, a Microsoft Garage project, is the simple, personal launcher for Android that offers a radical simplification of the Android experience,” says the official app description, in part.
Microsoft Arrow had previously been available in a closed beta. Now, it’s free for all.
Install Arrow, and it replaces the main app launcher “grid” experience in Android phones. Instead of sorting apps alphabetically, Arrow sorts them by frequency of use, learning the more you use it. It also puts the people you communicate with front-and-center, giving easy access.
Other features include the ability to have a custom wallpaper provided by Bing that cycles in every day, customisable docks and icons, and the tantalising possibility that it’s lightweight enough to provide better battery performance.
This new app plays right into Microsoft’s weird-but-cool Android strategy.
Because Android provides such deep access to the operating system, it becomes a great playground for Microsoft’s skunkworks Garage teams to experiment with features and have them tested by the wide-reaching Android fanbase.
Eventually, Microsoft plans to reintegrate those features that survive rigorous testing back into Microsoft’s Windows 10 and Office platforms.
Of course, there’s another possibility:
Between Arrow, and its investment in the Echo lock screen for Android, plus a bunch of other developments, Microsoft is slowly but surely building out all the pieces it would need to create its own, customised version of Android — a potential Hail Mary given the ongoing struggle of Microsoft’s phone business.